The prolific horror author Stephen Graham Jones keeps coming back to slashers. Since his first, Demon Theory, he has returned to the genre repeatedly. Last year, he offered readers the incredible The Only Good Indians, a phenomenal slasher that ends with what might be the most insane basketball scene ever written. This year, he published My Heart is a Chainsaw.
Unlike Jones’ previous work, which is informed by but rarely overtly references, slashers are all over My Heart is a Chainsaw. The main character, 17-year-old Jade Daniels, is obsessed with the genre. Jones uses that obsession to his advantage. While a gruesome murder tips readers off in the prologue (the only chapter in the book not in Jade’s close-third person perspective), the rest of the town is not making the same connections as Jade when people start dying.
Obsessed with Slashers
Jade is obsessed, to the point that she names the new girl at school, Letha Mondragon, a final girl. However, when Jade gives Letha a letter to warn her about the slaughter to come, Letha draws an unexpected conclusion. Jones’s greatest trick might be making readers wonder if a murderer is actually on the loose or if Jade is shaping the events in reaction to a deeper trauma.
That ambiguity works even better as Jones develops his characters beyond the two-dimensional cutouts you might expect from some other slashers, which frequently leave their characters shallow so audiences will not be upset when they are murdered. For example, Letha is not just a final girl. In many ways, she plays against type. She is a wealthy settler from a new development, Terra Nova, across Indian Lake from Jade’s town, Proofrock. Instead of fighting with her father’s girlfriend, the two have a healthy relationship. While she is not happy to have moved to the Idaho wilderness, she tries to make the best of it. Other characters break out of their generic roles as well, though Jade struggles to see it.
For her, the world is a slasher film waiting for the director to call out action. She writes about that worldview in the extra credit essays for her history class that are included at the end of most chapters. Ostensibly, these essays are a primer for Letha, but they also familiarize readers with the slasher genre.
With a masterful execution of the genre with frequent tips of the hat to what comes before, My Heart is a Chainsaw is as close to metatextual legendary film Scream as anyone has ever written in book form. The novel has been frequently called a love letter to slashers, and it is. However, it is more than a love letter. It is the culmination of the genre, all of the schlocky goodness with well-rounded characters moving through a complex world in a way that tastefully addresses race, wealth inequality, and sexual abuse. My Heart is a Chainsaw is a masterpiece.
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|Pub Date: August 31, 2021||Page Count: 416pp||Age Range: 16 & Over|
|ISBN: 978-1-9821-3763-2||Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press||List Price: $26.99|